GARY MEYER & BECKY MEYER
“We have had an eighteen-wheeler come through the drive-through, and he had to actually get out of his truck and step down to the window.” – Gary Meyer
Sometime in the 1930s, Rudolph Meyer began selling his homemade sausage out of his small community store in Elgin, Texas, The Rockfront Grocery. His sausage proved so successful that he soon branched out to restaurants and groceries in Austin where he would sell his products out of the trunk of his car. Mr. Meyer formed Meyer’s Sausage Company in 1949 when the demand for his sausage required a much larger production process. The company has since been passed along through his son and daughter-in-law Buddy and Betty Meyer, and to their sons Gregg and Gary. Today, Meyer’s Sausage Company ships their products across Texas and the nation, while featuring their sausage at Meyer’s Smokehouse, a barbecue restaurant the family opened in 1998. While Gregg develops new products and runs the day to day operations at the sausage plant, Gary and his wife Becky run the restaurant and handle the burgeoning catering business.
NOTE: What follows is a portion of the original interview that has been edited for length. To download the entire transcript in PDF form, please click here.
Subject: Gary Meyer and Becky Meyer
Produced in association with the American Studies Department at The University of Texas at Austin and the Central Texas Barbecue Association.
Marvin Bendele: OK. How did the restaurant get started? When? How did it come about that you guys had it? And you know just—give me what you can.
Becky Meyer: OK. Well, I’ll go ahead and start. The restaurant was originally started by the late James Biggers in 1965. Meyers purchased the business from Dorothy Cartwright, and she was the sister of James Biggers—and reopened as Meyer’s Elgin Smokehouse on Friday the thirteenth, actually—February 13, 1998.
So, when you guys bought this in ’98, I guess, how long did it take to—well, first off, what do you do here? The restaurant—do you—does it have anything to do with selling the sausage, things like that?
Gary Meyer: Sure, of course barbecue—that’s our big thing here. We sell all of our products. We have a retail market where we sell all of our products that the sausage company manufactures in this particular outlet.
What typically do you serve, I mean, meat-wise?
GM: Well, we serve—our main two items are—of course, the sausage is the biggest item we serve here, and then brisket. And then, after that, would probably be the ribs—ribs, chicken, and then turkey. So—
Turkey—is it barbecued turkey?
GM: Yes. It’s barbecued. We do things a little bit different here. We vacuum tumble—not vacuum—yeah, vacuum tumble all of our products except the sausage, and I don’t think there are many other places out here that do this—it’s a procedure we brought over here from the sausage company that we started doing jerky with to get it to take smoke better, and you know, when you run it through the smokehouse, it just comes out a better product. The season is pulled into the meat because as you’re putting it into this machine, you pull a vacuum on it and you mix the spices with water and the machine tumbles it round and round and the meat falls on itself and it causes it to open up and it absorbs the seasoning into the meat—whereas you get a better penetration of the seasoning than you would with the hand rub. You just can’t match it. And that—that’s one of the different things we do here from most other places.
Well, when you say that your father was the barbecue guy [Laughs]—when your father was the barbecue guy, did he just cook in the back yard?
GM: Yeah. Anywhere and everywhere. The fire departments would have these big feeds. He would cook. He would cook for people’s weddings and stuff—not commercially, just to help and do it. And he loved to do it. They would get around and just—no telling what they’d be cooking. He’d always cook different things from mutton, to brisket, to sausage, to, you know, anything he might cook. And he just loved to do that. They would drink beer and cook, and just have a good old time.
Well, so, do you pretty much carry on that tradition? Do you barbecue around town for people too? Or is that your brother that does that?
GM: Well, we don’t have time to do that [Laughs].
BM: We let the restaurant do the cooking [Laughs].
GM: We’ve gotten spoiled actually. At Thanksgiving and what not now, we even cook our turkeys on the pit here and take them with us. It’s just—we just don’t have the actual time to do it. You know, when we’re away from the restaurant, we’re kind of away from the whole thing.
So [Becky], you’re pretty much the person that gets to answer all the big questions and solve all the problems day-to-day here?
BM: Yeah. The employee problems, you know, we rarely get complaints, but all the complaints come through me. I handle them. You know, I field them all because, you know, I tell the guys, you know, when I need you, you better come, and you better come fast [Laughs]. And they’re really good. I mean, they’re primarily up at the sausage company because that takes, you know, a lot of their time. And so, I’m really the family member that is here every day, you know. And so, I try to handle, you know—and we get calls for catering and things like that. And a lot of people, they don’t know, you know, because they’re doing a wedding, and they don’t know, you know, what all is involved in catering. So, I kind of just, you know, take the time—
GM: Figure out what they actually want. Because a lot of people don’t know what they want…
BM: Yeah, what they want. I listen to them and take that extra time, you know, with them that the managers—the floor managers don’t have because they’re, you know, feeding the people as they come in, you know. You know, they’re busy with the floor. So, I try to take that—I try to be the telephone voice.
Well, how big is the catering business for you guys? Do you do it every weekend? And also, where do you do it? Just here in Elgin? Or into Austin?
BM: Well, May is our big time for catering, and you know we’ve got a lot of, you know, graduations and things like that. So, May is our pretty big month for catering. And so, normally we’re kind of running, you know, with our tongues hanging out in May. And then it may bleed over a little bit to June, you know. And then, like in December, it’s a lot of pickups—a lot of people coming into the restaurant to pick up food to take out to offices parties or things like that. And, um, we go all over—Austin, and just Temple, and I don’t know what the radius is.
GM: [Indiscernible] We had one that actually called from Waco, and we were planning to go, but I don’t know what happened with that job. We do quite a few—as you can see our board there, that’s our catering jobs. And it’s—you know, some months are bigger than others like Becky was saying, but it’s pretty much all out through the year that you have catering. A lot of the cold months and stuff it kind of slacks off a little, but when the weather’s nice, people tend to have more parties and what not. And we’ll do them. Our largest one to this day—we’ve served a thousand people in forty-five minutes.
BM: That was Grace Covenant—Grace Covenant Church in Austin.
GM: We—we’ve got quite a bit of practice at it. We’ve got pretty good at it. It’s just, you know, once you get out to the job, the majority of the work is done because it’s done behind the scenes at the restaurant, and everything is prepped here. Then you get out there, and the amount of food it takes for that many people is—it takes a lot. I mean to feed that many—and we do our catering basically self-serve so people can take however much they want. But we have to figure it so we don’t run out. That’s taken some time and adjustment on poundages to get that. But actually we found out on our catering—on the larger catering jobs of several hundred people, you come out better letting people try to serve themselves than you do trying to serve them the exact amount each. You’ll probably wind up using less food if they serve themselves than if you put the same exact amount on each person’s place that’s going to—may waste half a plate. You know, it works out.
Andrew Busch: Some people don’t like to eat certain things.
GM: Sure, yeah. You might have a person come by and get a whole plate full of just potato salad [Laughter]. And you do have vegetarians that will come through and ask, “Do you have anything besides meat?” Well, you know—you know, you have to pick the bacon out of the beans, you have bread, you have barbecue sauce, and potato salad, and that’s about it. And actually we had—we did a catering job for a UT [The University of Texas at Austin] professor the other day, and there was some—I guess the guy was Muslim—he couldn’t eat—he didn’t want—he couldn’t eat any pork to his religion. And I said, “Well our sausage is beef, but actually the casing on the sausage is pork casing. So, if you take a piece of sausage,” because his friend was telling him he needed to try this sausage, it was so good. And I said, “Well what you need to do, is just take the sausage and peel the casing off of it, and then you can eat it. It’s beef and then you won’t have any pork with it.” I guess, apparently he did that, and I saw him back in the line getting more sausage. And I asked him, “So, um, did you like that? Did you, um, peel the casing off?” He said, “Yeah, I liked it.” But he said it’s too good—he just ate the whole thing [Laughter]. He came back and got more sausage, so I guess he kind of was, um, kind of, just wanted to skip that part of his religion that day [Laughter].
AB: How much meat to you guys cook just for the restaurant in an average day?
BM: Well, in a day—I ran some stats before y’all got here, uh, we—as far as the sausage is concerned—sausage is our main thing here, of course. Elgin is the sausage capital of Texas. We go through, in a week, 4000 pounds of sausage, in a week. And basically our brisket—we go through weekly about 3000 to 3500 pounds a week. And our ribs, 700 to 800 pounds a week.
What do you guys serve as sides here?
BM: We have, uh, potato salad, beans, coleslaw and creamed corn.
And do you have special things that you serve occasionally? Or is that pretty much standard throughout the year?
BM: No. That’s pretty much standard throughout the year. We’ve tried things like corn on the cob and, you know, things like that. It’s just, you know, it’s just, you know, they want the beans, potato salad, and coleslaw for sure with the barbecue.
AB: I notice you guys serve breakfast tacos. How long have you been doing that and where did that come from?
BM: That started in, uh, 2002 when we added our drive-through on. And before then, we weren’t doing any breakfast. You know, we purchased the place in ’98, and, uh, then in 2002 is when we added the drive-through on, and then that is when also we started opening up at breakfast time—opening up the business at six a.m., you know, for the drive-through. And the drive-through is mainly, you know, the breakfast tacos, uh, with the sausage in there, eggs, cheese, potatoes, and, uh, then we also have in the drive-through the brisket and sausage in the morning because there are people—you know, we don’t open the front until ten. So, you have people, you know, truck drivers and things like that, you know, we also have a walk-up window that they want to come in—I mean, not come in—but get something for the road. You know, so they can—they can actually drive their eighteen-wheeler through the drive-through [Laughs].
GM: We have had an eighteen-wheeler come through the drive-through, and he had to actually get out of his truck and step down to the window. But, you know, in the past I drove a truck myself. So, I designed a drive-through where you could drive a truck and a trailer through. And he actually tested it. And it worked [Laughs].
Has he been the only one or is—
GM: Well, we have—I guess, as far as actually eighteen-wheelers, he’s probably the only one that I’ve been told of that came through. We have others, you know, and large delivery trucks and what not come through. But as far as actually an eighteen-wheeler, I think he’s the only one. It’s [Laughs]—it’s designed, they can go through.
Well, so is there any special way people are supposed to eat your barbecue or have you noticed any quirky things that people do here when they’re doing it?
GM: No, you just see—you just—you just see the amounts of barbecue that people consume that’s, you know, it’s kind of hard to believe. I never really pay much attention to how they’re eating that, but just the fact that they can eat that much [Laughter].
Well, what about—what about sauce? Do you—do you put sauce on the barbecue here or do you provide it for people?
GM: Yeah, we provide sauce here. We have, um—our barbecue sauce that we have here is actually my grandmother’s recipe and we sell it, um, all over Texas. And it’s shipped online too. You can order our barbecue sauce. And it’s in, um, it’s in all the HEBs [a regional grocery chain] in central Texas—well, statewide actually.
How long does it take to, I guess for a regular size brisket—how long does it take to cook?
GM: Well, we put—we put the briskets on in the evening, uh, five to five thirty in the evening. And a normal size brisket will probably be ready in the morning from probably around eight o’clock. And you might have some that will go until ten that, you know, a little bit larger. And they’re left to cook all night long. They cook slow all night long. And so, you got to make sure to have enough for the day because if you run out there’s no catching up on the brisket. You’re just out.
Do you put everything else on in the morning when you get here or is there other things that go on all night?
GM: No, the brisket is the only thing that cooks all night long because it takes so long to cook it. I mean most other sausage, you know, is cooked in about an hour. And your ribs and chicken and stuff, you know, turkey two hours to three hours on some of the other items. But, you know, there’s no way on the brisket. It has to cook, probably, fifteen hours.
To download the entire transcript in PDF form, please click here.